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Duquesne schools making progress, receiver says

| Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 4:06 a.m.

Duquesne City Schools receiver Paul B. Long said in his quarterly report on the progress of the district's academic and financial recovery that administrators and teachers have bolstered their efforts to improve education.

The district educates students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Middle and high school students attend East Allegheny and West Mifflin Area schools.

With the district's future uncertain after this academic year, the priority has been higher achievement for as many students as possible. At Tuesday's public meeting with the receiver and elected school board members, Long said he believes that administrators and teachers are up to the task.

Long said the staff is using weekly professional development sessions and more technology in the classroom to reach students on their level.

“The most critical aspect of our students' education is the relationship between the student and the teacher of the classroom in which the student is placed,” Long said.

Principal Sharon McIntosh briefed parents — many of them in attendance because their high-performing children were honored as students of the month — on individual learning plans.

Such plans are required across the state for special needs students, but Duquesne is implementing a similar system for every student in order to maximize learning.

“It's our task as educators to find out how each child learns and address their education based on that style,” McIntosh said.

She described people of all ages who, for example, may learn the same lesson more effectively by hearing, seeing or touching.

Learning plans are based on data gathered through diagnostic tests and assessments including the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, Group Mathematics Assessment and Diagnostic Evaluation, Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, Study Island Benchmarking Program, and the Cycle of Effective Instruction.

“This is how we decide what challenges our students might have and build their learning plans around that,” McIntosh said.

She offered descriptions of the assessments and a sheet of learning plan goals and objectives to parents.

Long said the mission of the district is to educate the “sons and daughters of the Duquesne community.”

“We need you to partner with us,” he told parents. “You need to know how you can help us help your children.”

Based on the Pennsylvania School Performance Profiles score of 49.3, made public on Oct. 4, Duquesne is in “priority” status with 91 other school systems. In coming weeks, those schools will be appointed an academic recovery liaison.

Long expects the liaison to be impressed with the strides the district is making and the educational plan that already is in place.

“We are doing a lot of good work with all the barriers we are up against,” acting Superintendent Barbara McDonnell said. “We have shown growth in our grade levels in reading and math.”

Administrators said links for the state Department of Education ( and local performance profiles ( are on the district's website and its Facebook page.

As part of its commitment to meeting student needs, the district will host a professional development workshop, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty,” for area educators.

“We have a high incidence of poverty among our students,” Long said. “It's important for our teachers and staff to understand the culture from which our students come. It's not good or bad, better or worse, but it's different.”

The workshop featuring speaker Jim Littlejohn is scheduled for Nov. 6 from 1-4 p.m. in the Duquesne Education Center auditorium. It is open to classroom teachers, counselors, school nurses and academic coaches. Registration fee is $50 per person.

It is presented in partnership with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit's Institute for Schools and Communities morning presentation for administrators from districts across the county.

Sarah McCluan of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit said understanding the culture of poverty will help educators reach students who are being raised in such circumstances.

“There are huge differences between rural poverty and urban poverty, temporary poverty and multi-generational poverty,” McCluan said. “There's data about how children develop and how their minds are formed.”

To register for the Duquesne presentation, email

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1956., or

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